Throughout the 2019–2020 school year, our new We Are DOE series will highlight some of the everyday heroes of NYC’s public schools. Featuring a cross-section of the DOE’s 140,000+ employees across the five boroughs, We Are DOE will showcase some of the many unsung heroes who help keep the largest school system in the country running daily.

For our fourth We Are DOE feature, please welcome Deputy Director of Facilities, Sunita Mahabir

Sunita Mahabir Stands in front of old desk at DOEs Facilities Office in Queens

“One thing we are especially good at is handling emergencies,” says Sunita Mahabir, a deputy director of facilities for the DOE in Queens. Sunita is responsible for overseeing custodial operations and management services for 45 school buildings to make sure they are clean, safe, and comfortable. Because most of those buildings are many decades old, Sunita doesn’t have too many quiet days. 

 “Something unexpected happens pretty much on a daily basis. We might have an elevator stop working, or a broken pipe that causes flooding, or a malfunction in the heating system—all require emergency responses so there is no disruption to learning for our students. There’s always something with our older buildings.”

Sunita joined the DOE in the summer of 2011 after working for a commercial property management firm. She immediately discovered that her responsibilities at the DOE—making sure that school environments are conducive to student learning—gave her greater satisfaction than her previous job. In addition to her work with the DOE, she has been a donor and volunteer for non-profit organizations and institutions that promote education for years.    

One aspect of the work that Sunita finds especially gratifying is serving students with disabilities, including the four District 75 schools she oversees that exclusively educate students with special needs. “Students come in with various forms of disability, and many have mobility issues. That we can provide them with an environment to come in and be comfortable is very rewarding to me.”

Something unexpected happens pretty much on a daily basis. We might have an elevator stop working, or a broken pipe that causes flooding, or a malfunction in the heating system — all require emergency responses so there is no disruption to learning for our students.”

– Sunita Mahabir, Deputy Director of Facilities, Queens

Another school Sunita supervises has a LYFE program, which provides free early childhood education and support to infants and toddlers whose parents are enrolled in NYC public schools. “It pushes you to do your job effectively to make sure the building is safe for kids of all ages.” 

When Sunita inspects schools, she checks to make sure every aspect of the physical plant is in working order and complying with NYC codes and regulatory requirements—including flags placed in front of school buildings, classroom doors, sprinkler systems, plumbing, light fixtures, heating and air conditioning systems, and so on. She also is working with Environmental Health and Safety Division to facilitate lead testing in water and inspections of paint in classrooms.  

“The first and foremost goal is always the safety of the students,” she says. “We really try to be as proactive as possible to prevent problems and respond quickly as a team when emergencies occur.”

Sunita Mahabir speaking with a co-worker

Sunita says she and her team rarely spend time at their office in Long Island City, as she’s usually out working at schools across Queens

We thank Sunita along with the hundreds of other DOE Facilities staff members who help keep City schools safe, functional, and open throughout the school year.

Together, We Are DOE.

The Morning Bell

Official blog for the NYC Department of Education, home of over 1.1 million students across 1,800+ schools

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NYC Department of Education, 2019